BI and CRM for the masses
Solutions need to be introduced to companies in a different way.
BUSINESS INTELLIGENCE (BI) and customer relationship management (CRM) solutions have traditionally been the domain of large enterprises for the past five to 10 years. But both topics have now started being more relevant to the SME market. SMEs have realised that deriving more granular information from their financial systems and interacting with their clients in a more valuable way give them a vital differentiator in these tough economic times.
The approach being used in integrating BI and CRM into the solutions SMEs make use of is different to the way those solutions were positioned in the enterprise sector. Softline Pastel MD Steven Cohen says if we cast our minds back to the early Nineties it’s clear why that different approach is being taken.
“Accounting software for smaller businesses only started becoming available in the early Nineties,” says Cohen. “And even then those solutions were tailored to the tasks required by accounting departments. For that reason it wasn’t uncommon for managers to run to their accounts department whenever they needed reports on the company’s financial performance.
“As that process started becoming more common, the next evolutionary step was for management to become involved in generating its own reports and, in turn, becoming more proactive about how the business was run. And that’s when BI and CRM began coming to the fore,” says Cohen.
He says accounting systems were already doing a good enough job of running the day-to-day administration of the company and, quite simply, there wasn’t very much vendors of those solutions could add into the mix from a functionality perspective.
In a manner of speaking, Cohen says vendors had to begin building BI and CRM functionality into their accounting solutions so they were able to justify the ongoing existence of their new versions. “And as the market continues down that track I believe BI and CRM will become commonplace: in five years’ time accounting solutions will include that additional functionality by default.”
While Cohen says CRM has excellent value to offer small businesses it’s still a relatively hard sell. “They aren’t must-have features. The basic functionality an accounting system offers is a no-brainer – but because BI and CRM simply make life more pleasant and insightful for SMEs but they won’t die without it, it’s a tougher sell.”
However, Cohen says Softline Pastel is making good headway in that sector. “Accounting software is relatively generic. But BI allows a business to take its reporting into a new realm tailored to its specific vertical and unique approach to the market.
“BI also allows small companies to become more creative about their questioning or reporting – and the more creative they get with that questioning, the more valuable insight they’re likely to derive. In much the same way, CRM allows a company to become more astute at servicing its customer base. It allows companies to move beyond the static or number-based information that’s stored inside their accounting systems.
“It extends the contact information stored in the accounting system and gives those responsible for interacting with customers a more personal flavour to their interactions. For example, customers’ likes and dislikes or the workflows they’re subject to.”
As a result of both topics becoming more relevant to SMEs, accounting solutions are no longer relegated to the accounting department alone. “While the accounting department still controls the solution it starts getting used by the MD, sales team and even the receptionist,” Cohen says.
So what needs to be different – besides price – for BI and CRM to be applicable to SMEs? Cohen says because bigger companies were generally more mature about how they thought about their business they were capable of investing in CRM and BI solutions – not to mention the legion of consultants such a company would require to customise the solutions to their needs.
“Though those functions must obviously be more cost effective when it comes to the SME market, at the same time they must be easier to implement and use, since smaller companies don’t have the same budgets larger ones do.
“Lastly, BI and CRM functionality must be pre-merged with the company’s accounting system so that customers are able to derive value as soon as possible. “As vendors of SME solutions we must also aim to demystify the BI and CRM space,” he says.
But Cohen admits the temptation is for the contrary to transpire. “After all, where there’s mystery there’s margin,” he chuckles. “But seriously, those solutions can’t be complex. The business owner has to believe it’s going to make a difference to the company’s life and the only way to convince him of that is to demonstrate its value.
“By showing them the kind of reporting an accounting solution is capable of delivering once BI is built into it, or how the company is able to more efficiently manage customer interactions with CRM built-in, they begin seeing the value,” Cohen says.
Over the past three years using that functionality on offer to more than 180 000 businesses Cohen says BI is Softline’s bestselling add-on module.